Tony Blair: Labour did not let in too many immigrants
Tony Blair today denied that Labour had let in too many immigrants from eastern Europe and insisted they had brought a “net benefit” to the UK.
The defiant former Prime Minister said the expansion of the EU to the former Soviet bloc had been “a great British achievement”.
His comments, at an event hosted by Prospect magazine, came as the EU referendum debate continues to be dominated by rows over immigration.
Labour controversially waived Britain's right to impose so-called "transitional controls" limiting migrant numbers when 10 new countries - including the likes of Poland, Lithuania and Hungary - joined the EU in 2004.
Asked whether he now accepted that too many people had come to Britain after EU enlargement, Mr Blair said: "Personally, I don’t. I know there is a criticism which I completely understand, which is we shouldn’t have introduced earlier than we needed to the free movement of people from eastern Europe.
“But I do think with this debate we've got to take a step back and look at the big picture here. First of all, the advent into the European Union of the eastern European countries is of huge strategic importance to Europe and to the world and we should be proud of the fact we championed it."
He pointed to the hostilities in Ukraine as a good example of the importance of the enlargement policy.
“Imagine the situation today if those eastern European countries weren’t in the EU. Imagine the pressure they would be under. So this is for me, the fact of enlargement in my view is a great British achievement.”
He also hit out at those arguing that large-scale immigration has had a negative effect on British society.
“I believe the people who have come into this country have contributed far more by way of taxes and by way of commitment and energy to this country than they have taken by way of benefits and the truth of the matter is the answer to Britain’s problems today is not to be anti-immigrant.
“I think particularly in respect of the free movement of people in Europe, that is a net benefit for this country, not a net detriment.”